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Remembering Phil Livingston

Phil Livingston, a 28-year veteran at Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems, had a thing for electricity. It was just a natural curiosity that led him as a child to rewire the lights on his family's Christmas tree at his home in upstate New York. Years later, he rewired all of the electricity in his historic New Jersey home, and he'd do the same for just about anybody who asked.

Livingston, who passed away in 2006 from bladder cancer, was the eighth and last in a line of Philip Livingstons stretching back to the New York senator who signed the Declaration of Independence. This Livingston showed his independence in another way. He parlayed his interest in electronics into a career by learning it himself, without the benefit of a college degree.

“He's probably the last of a generation who's a self-made individual,” says Jan Crittenden, Livingston's widow and product line business manager at Panasonic. “He was very much a 'visual learner' and also a great reader.”

He began in radio at WVOS-FM and WVIP-AM in upstate New York, and later worked for WOKR-TV in Rochester. During that time, he developed a small cable television system used by a school district in Rochester.

He later spent a decade as associate director of instructional resources for the State University of New York at New Paltz. He then went to work for Panasonic for nearly three decades.

Associates say Livingston was among the most approachable, likable people in the business and a gifted speaker—skills that together made him well suited to be the de facto go-to guy for Panasonic's clients and one of the most visible representatives of the company, particularly in his last few years there.

“One of the key things we've done over the past five years is we've introduced P2 [Panasonic's camera format] to work very closely with third parties for compatibility in technology,” says John Baisley, president of Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems.

Livingston played a key role in the rollout of P2, not so much on the technical side but as a liaison with third-party manufacturers and in marketing the gear. “His reputation in the industry was superb,” Baisley says. “People knew that when he spoke, they were getting a straight story.”

He oversaw Panasonic's Technology Partnering Program, where he worked with nearly three dozen clients on incorporating Panasonic's digital compression technologies into their products.

“It was an important role,” Crittenden says. “We don't do well if we make products in a vacuum.”

That's why his engaging way with the public was important for Panasonic's image, and its products. “It wasn't possible to sit in a room and not believe everything he said,” his wife remembers. “He was so credible in the way he spoke, and it was from the heart.”

Livingston was involved for several years with the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), including chairing the committee on television production technology for two years. He also was heavily involved with the organization that helps test and set standards for the industry, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). He was involved with ATSC from its formation in 1987 until his death in 2006, serving on the board of directors for the last four of those years and as chairman of the board from 2002 to 2005.

He laid the foundation for ATSC's success after he was gone. “He helped position ATSC to look to the future, which subsequent chairs have built on,” says Mark Richer, the organization's president. “It wasn't until after he passed away, unfortunately, that we started to focus on mobile and handheld, but he helped stabilize the organization and bring people together to start thinking about the future.”

His reputation in the industry and among his friends and family was that of a gentleman who made everyone he spoke to feel important, and listened to. He was always willing to help others and considered virtually no task too difficult or too menial to take on—even sporting a pair of shorts and a tool belt to pound together Panasonic's booth at past NABs.

He was also passionate about working for Panasonic, evidenced by his having remained there for decades.

Says Baisley: “Phil, although he was immensely talented and knowledgeable, would do anything for the benefit of the company and people he worked for.”

Livingston's passing shook the TV engineering industry, his colleagues at Panasonic and his family and friends. “There isn't anybody who ever met him who just didn't love him,” Crittenden says. “He was that warmhearted and generous.”